Unemployed men would rather their female partner be out of work: study

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Men who are unemployed and in heterosexual relationships where the woman is the breadwinner would rather their partner be out of work, a new study found.

Over 42,000 people from nine European countries were analyzed by researchers at the University of Bath in the UK, finding that when the woman was the household’s financial provider, the quality of life in the relationship was below average versus relationships where the man or both partners work.

“Having a partner who is also not employed makes men feel less bad about their own joblessness and less self-conscious,” Dr. Helen Kowalewska, one of the report’s researchers, told The Independent.

Those involved in the survey were asked about the quality of satisfaction in their lives on a scale of 10 being the highest and one being the lowest.

Germany had the highest rates of struggle for men where the female is the breadwinner but was followed closely by the UK, Spain, and Ireland — though the issue is not isolated to these countries as many unemployed men in European nations find it difficult with their partners being the provider.


Men feel more feel the pain of their joblessness more and when their female partner is working, the study found.
Men feel more feel the pain of their joblessness more when their female partner is working, the study found.
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In the UK, where both they and their partners were jobless, males had a 0.223 higher happiness rate than in relationships where the woman was the sole worker.

“This statistic might not sound like much but we have found it is statistically significant given it was found even after we controlled for many socio-economic demographic things, as well for gender attitudes,” said Kowalewska. 

Men fear “gossiping, ridicule, and judgment” when they are unemployed and are financially dependent on the female in the relationship due to the cultural stereotype of masculinity.

Research also found that in areas with high unemployment rates, this issue was “less likely to feel deviant or be perceived as going outside social norms” because of the community around the couples all being in a similar poverty demographic.


The study found some men would rather their partner not work at all than be the household provider.
The study found some men would rather their partner not work at all than be the household provider.
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The issue is even prevalent in nations that have a strong emphasis on gender-equal like Finland and France, where some men would still rather the female in the relationship be jobless than the breadwinner.

Women who are the household provider “apparently threatens jobless men’s perceptions of their masculinity and intensifies the negative well-being consequences of their own joblessness,” the study found.

Men are socialized and expected by society to be the main provider. Research has found couples tend to be judged more harshly when the man is unemployed,” Kowalewska told the outlet. 

Though the study found that men seem to “attach greater value to their own employment status than their partners” and prefer their female partner to be unemployed, women in relationships where both partners are out of work have reported low well-being of life.


The study also found that men who are unemployed are more active in the job search than woman.
The study also found that men who are unemployed are more active in their job search than women.
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The cross-nation research comparisons also found that some women generally experienced a low quality of life when they were the sole breadwinner in the relationship.

Unemployed men can also be at risk of enduring isolation and loneliness, which can put an even more significant strain on the relationship.

Nearly four of five unemployed men, 78 percent, were still actively looking for employment in the last five years, versus 36 percent of unemployed females, according to the study.

In countries where men are expected to be the breadwinner in the relationship, couples are more likely to experience separation or divorce when the male is unemployed, a 2021 study done by the University of Pennsylvania found.

Their study concentrated on heterosexual couples from the United States and 28 high-income countries in Europe.

In nations where socially men are expected to be the “man as head of household,” they found relationships suffered as expected versus countries that put less emphasis on the idea.

“In a more hostile context, a gender-conservative context, men’s unemployment will leave a more negative psychological impact on the man, which reverberates within the couple,” said sociologist Pilar Gonalons-Pons.

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